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Letter-to-the-editor re: Government ethics rules across Canada, including for Senate, are loophole-filled and weakly enforced

Dear Editor:

Jean T. Fournier writes that in his seven years as Senate Ethics Officer he did not hear from any other Canadian ethics commissioner about any politician using their position “to get special treatment for the companies on whose boards they sat” (Letter – Nov. 12).

He fails to mention that none of the ethics commissioners across Canada conduct audits of what politicians and government officials do — so of course they haven’t caught anyone.  He also neglects to note that Alberta government officials recently blew the whistle on MLA Peter Sandhu because he was lobbying them on behalf of his own business.

Mr. Founier also ignores the fact that a huge loophole in political ethics rules across Canada makes it legal for all politicians (including Cabinet ministers), political staff and Cabinet appointees to lobby for special treatment for their own and their companies’ financial interests.  Because of this loophole, the Alberta ethics commissioner ruled that Mr. Sandhu’s lobbying was not a violation of ethics rules.

As well, a politician or government official can also very easily give special treatment to their own or their companies’ interests through inaction — for example by not advocating for regulations that increase protection for consumers, the environment, children etc.

To have governments that protect the public interest, ethics rules must be strengthened across Canada either to prohibit politicians and government officials from having any business investments or other ties to businesses, or to prohibit them from taking part in any decision-making process if there is even an appearance that the decision could benefit them or their business in any way.

Federal politicians enacted rules 25 years ago that prohibit federal public servants from taking part in any decision-making process if there is an appearance that the decision could benefit them or their family in any way (not just financially).  MPs are currently reviewing federal ethics rules — they should stop being hypocritical and start being ethics by finally imposing the same prohibition on all federal politicians, political staff and appointees.

Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign